Thursday, October 22, 2009
Kittens are Imminent...and other things
Picture: Scout shenanigans...making herself at home in my window slats at night.
So Scout has officially gone rogue. Within the past week she has run out of my house like a bat out of hell when I take my bucket shower at night EVERY night. She climbs my cement wall because, apparently, she is a spider-monkey now; jumps, and stays out all night until she saunters back in a walk of shame like the scandalous little harlot that she is at around 6AM, at which time she jumps onto the window screen of my bedroom and howls at me mercilessly until I get up and let her in. Honestly, it is kind of lonely at night without her in my house. She used to always cuddle up on my lap and I felt better sleeping, knowing that I had my own little cockroach destroyer in the house with me. I can kill scorpions like nobody’s business but cockroaches still seem to paralyze me with disgust. Then during the day she just creeps under my bed and sleeps until it’s time for her dinner. I feel so used and abused. In fact, last night when I was making her dinner, her little “friend” had the gall to sashay up to my front door for a cat call, if you don’t mind the pun, and she flat out left me to go see him. So, as I’ve indicated, kittens seem pretty imminent.
Her disreputable behavior would bother me more though if it didn’t seem to be a scourge of lasciviousness on felines across Benin. Simultaneously so many volunteers’ cats have been doing the same exact thing. It’s like some coordinated feline mating ritual. And speaking of rituals…
I’m heading up north to Badjoude on Monday to see the annual “Whipping fete” that acts as a rite of passage for Muslim boys. It is going to be kind of crazy (not to mention expensive)…going all the way up to Badjoude and back in 2 days (we only get 2 days away from post at a time without taking vacation), but how many times does one get to see a whipping fete, really? Plus there are whipping fetes all over the north but Badjoude’s is supposed to be especially large and interesting. So fun stories and pictures to come.
Picture: Marianne with a famous Beninese TV star that came to swear-in...yes, the head gear is normal formal attire in Benin.
Picture: Michelle and Angelina at my house for our initial Mali planification!!!
Life is getting pretty hectic here now, and my work is really picking up. I got my first issue of Bisou Bisou out to the schools this week, and announced the girls club I’m starting with a woman at my NGO. We are picking up their application essays at the schools tomorrow and then will choose 8 to work with us over the year. We’re going to discuss sexual health stuff, female empowerment, strategies for academic success, etc., as well as train them on computers so that hopefully they can continue with the newsletter themselves next year. Yesterday I went back out to Koutime to weigh babies with Kantos and the new health volunteer that just moved nearby—a LOT more women came than the last time. We weighed 79 babies, and talked to each mom about her child’s eating habits, reinforcing exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, and weaning strategies, etc. so we were there for about 6 hours. And there was a fete going on so a lot of women couldn’t come, which means next time will probably be longer. But I really enjoy it—it is satisfying work.
Several women prepared us food as a thank you since we had been there all morning and well through the afternoon—pate with moringa sauce. It’s tends to be a little uncomfortable to me when I’m in that kind of situation because inevitably, all eyes are on my while I’m eating. The women just sat around the periphery of the room while Charlie, Kantos, and I dug in…literally…because traditionally in Benin, one eats with his or her hands. I myself still struggle to cross some kind of mental barrier I seem to have put up against eating with my hands so that in situations were it wouldn’t seem overly rude—like a restaurant—I ask for a fork. This however, would have been pretty rude in this situation so I ate with my hands. It’s just that everyone in Benin always makes fun of me because I eat with my thumb, index, and middle fingers as opposed to eating with all 5 fingers. They think it is dainty and ridiculous, and, because I can’t shovel the sauce in at warp speed, it takes me awhile to finish. I don’t know why I don’t like to use my last 2 fingers. After all, my hand is getting gross anyway and I’ll still have to wash it. But I think if I tried to eat with all 5 fingers I would just end up dribbling sauce down my face and if I get laughed at that much for eating daintily, I can’t imagine the teasing—even if it is friendly teasing—that would accompany thoooose shenanigans. But anyways…
I often talk about how much I can’t stand men in this country. It’s true…I find constant sexual harassment and cat calls, leering looks, marriage proposals, and lewd comments utterly exhausting and degrading and it has given me really negative feelings toward the general male population here. But now I’m trying to work with that, or at least take a first step. I was reading Helen Epstein’s book, The Invisible Cure, about HIV/AIDS in Africa and stumbled across something that stuck out as a very important point to me. She writes “Empowering individual women without addressing the attitudes of men and society in general risks creating empowered women who antagonize men.” I’ve noticed this before in my work since I tend to so much focus on women, but generally never felt moved enough to start to engage men here more than I already did. Men will hover around the periphery of my womens’ groups meetings to hear what we talk about. And when we announced the girls club at the schools the boys took umbrage that I wasn’t having a club for boys too. And I have noticed that including men in my work with womens’ groups usually goes over really well, and they enjoy learning the information too. You can tell they feel important because they sort of puff up a little and seem really happy to be there. Actually, the secretary of the Koutime group is a guy (since he can read and write) and he is AMAZING at baby-weighings. He helps translate into Aja or Fon and is really involved in organizing the moms and the babies for actual weighing.
Still, I do think it is important to work with girls in an all girls environment sometimes for their development because they do have hard lives and not as many opportunities as the boys in Benin. When they are together without boys, they talk more openly. But I can’t expect that what these girls will learn will help them at all if the men in their lives aren’t equally informed and receptive to new ideas. New-found independence and any efforts women take to assert themselves WILL antagonize the men in their lives. We always have Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) in Porto Novo for the girls in Southern Benin and there are smaller versions across the country. This year 2 of my friends up north are organizing a Camp BLOW in addition to the girls camp, which seems like a pretty awesome idea, when I think about it. I’m not starting a boys club at the CEG but I am starting to work at one of the orphanages in Dogbo where there are only teenage boys living, and I am really looking forward to hanging out with them. My first “official” time to work with them is the morning of Halloween (if you have any costume ideas for me since we’re having a party that night with mono-kouffo PCVs, let me know). We’re going to do a bunch of different “Lifeskills activities” about their development, where they see themselves in a few years, academic planning, HIV/AIDS info, etc. It should be good!
I can’t believe it is almost the end of October and that Halloween is coming! It is so strange that I am experiencing things in Benin for the second time, and knowing that it is also the last time. The time here is really going by SO quickly and keeping busy is making it fly even faster. I have something every weekend planned through December, and then I’ll be going to Mali (can’t WAIT!!!) for Christmas and New Years. I am starting to hash out fun plans for when my parents visit in January and THAT will be here before I know it. I don’t know what it is but the time in Benin since I have come back from the States has absolutely just gone with the snap of a finger. I realize there is so much I want do here and I have only about 9 and a half months left!!! How did that happen? It is pretty amazing to think about because I remember getting ready to move to Dogbo last year and freaking out about living there for 2 years. Even now looking at the people who have just arrived at their posts it feels like they have SO much time left. There is just such a difference in perspective between that first and second year as a volunteer for me. I feel like I am finally back in a good place being in Benin as well, emotionally speaking. Life was admittedly a little dark for me between March and August (which I especially realized after re-reading my blog and journal entries), with a succession of bad events happening one after another in what seemed like the universe having a twisted sense of humor about my life here. But I feel really great right now and have for the past few weeks. I’ve been having a lot more “wow, I’m actually living in Africa” moments like when I was weighing babies, or ran into the president of the kpodaha groupement who told everyone to call me Catherine instead of yovo last week, or even during my bucket shower when I looked up and saw how beautiful the stars are (during rainy season you couldn’t see them…it was always cloudy…and I forgot how lovely they are). Maybe it’s just because I feel like I am actually accomplishing things right now and feel good about my work, but I’m really happy and really happy to report it! Donc, pour le moment, a bientot!
Picture: Angelina, Charlie, Dennis, Michelle, and Weihow at the Lokossa B-day celebration last week. Get excited, mom and dad, we are going to eat at that maquis for lunch one day...delicious igame pilee and sauce d'arachide with wagasi!!!